Over the weekend, Mitt Romney unveiled his choice of a Vice Presidential running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. The pick has been called everything from "bold" and "energizing" to "risky" and "out of the mainstream." But, no matter how you shake out politically, I think we can all agree Rep. Ryan is an articulate and principled public servant with a relatable family and background. While he's arguably the best choice Romney could have made, I couldn't help but notice the lack of foreign experience on the Republican ticket. So, while the economy will continue to be the number one issue on voter's minds, let us not forget that a hands-on understanding of global markets and practices is more important than ever in keeping America economically competitive.
Paul Ryan is primarily known within the Republican Party and American politics due to his Chairmanship of the House Budget Committee, and as the primary architect to the controversial "Path to Prosperity." Within the proposal, Ryan addresses virtually all aspects of fiscal policy spanning entitlements, defense spending, and corporate and individual tax rates (among others). And, while it tangentially mentions "competitiveness" in the context of our tax system, one key missing piece of his "Path" is growth. We can spend hours and hours debating how to achieve the necessary spending cuts to solve our running deficits and national debt crisis, but without a steeper growth trajectory we won't have the base needed to pay the bills or achieve a fiscally sustainable path forward.
Charting a path of sustainable growth in the 21st century is highly dependent on how we will compete in increasingly interdependent markets. And at a time when the U.S. still has all of the advantages to succeed in the global economy -- rule of law, free markets, political stability (not necessarily sanity!), and a domestic market twice as large as the next biggest economy. But interestingly, as highlighted by the Ryan pick, none of the four men on either presidential ticket has meaningful political or business experience abroad (no, a bank account in Switzerland doesn't count). Sure, Romney has traveled abroad and has some limited international business experience, and Obama/Biden have been exposed to international affairs via the Senate and their last three years in the West Wing, but none have actually spent meaningful time abroad during their adult lives. So how can we expect them to put together a realistic vision to compete globally?
Clearly to date, voters haven't demanded that a deep understanding of the world be a requirement of our top elected officials. I was often surprised during my dad's campaign to hear voters describe his experience as U.S. Ambassador to China as a negative. For some reason, they felt his close connection to Asia meant he wasn't "pro-American" enough. Many were more supportive of messages based on fear than opportunity.
And, unfortunately this international "experience gap" doesn't stop at the executive branch. For instance, only a select few in the U.S. Congress can point to time spent abroad, with many having been in office for decades. In fact, there are five currently serving Congressmen that have spent more than 40 consecutive years in Congress. To put that in perspective, all of these men would have been in office BEFORE Nixon formalized relations with China in 1972, at a time when we literally had $0 in trade with what now constitutes one of our largest economic relationships (in 2011 total trade was ~$500B). Simply put, we need more elected officials that understand the interconnectedness of the developed and developing world, emerging technologies, and America's place in the changing global landscape.
Romney's pick reinforces that international experience isn't a requirement to be a candidate for the top office in the world. It is simply not a priority for most voters. My hope, as a member of Generation X, is that as a country we begin to put more emphasis on electing leaders who understand the world beyond America's borders. It's the only path to a better economy, more jobs, and ultimately a fiscally balanced future.